Tag Archives: Joshua Keating

Actually, He’s Really Gone Now. No, Seriously. Egypt Just Overthrew Its Government.

Patrick Appel at Sullivan’s place has a round-up of reacts. Video via Appel.

David Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid at NYT:

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned his post and turned over all power to the military on Friday, ending his nearly 30 years of autocratic rule and bowing to a historic popular uprising that has transformed politics in Egypt and around the Arab world.

The streets of Cairo exploded in shouts of “God is Great” moments after Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced during evening prayers that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.

Even before he had finished speaking, protesters began hugging and cheering, shouting “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head.”

“He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.”

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

As the jubilation spread across Tahrir Square with the announcement of Hosni Mubarak’s departure, one can only imagine what was running through the minds of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he watched. Or that of Saudi King Abdullah. Or Jordan’s King Abudllah. Or of any of the region’s autocratic leaders. We know that over the past several days the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Jordanians had urged support for the status quo. So too, for that matter, had Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And while the drama unfolding in Egypt today is profound and powerful, it clearly marks the end of only the first scene of the first act of what will be long twisting drama. Many questions hang in the air about what comes next. What will the transition look like? Will the army truly allow the emergence of a pluralistic, representative model government? Will the interim government have the savvy to present such a road map early enough to placate activists? Will the process be transparent enough? Will international observers be invited to monitor elections? Will real democracy be supported by broader changes than just in election laws?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The Egyptian people have won a startling and historic victory. It is perhaps the most difficult thing in the world to do, to force a Pharaoh from the palace, but they did it, and without bombs.

Now, though, comes a series of terrible challenges that could undo what the people have achieved. The Egyptian economy needs to grow at least seven percent a year to create the jobs necessary for the masses of underemployed, often-over-educated, young people who have been crowding the streets, and economic power is still in the hands of plutocrats and oligarchs, who are not terribly interested in reforming the system that has made them obscenely rich.

If economic power is in the hands of the oligarchs, political power now is in the hands of the military. In other situations, in other countries, what we’ve seen today is called a military coup.  Egypt has no tradition of democracy, and a strong tradition of military leadership. The people, for the moment, seem to want the military. I don’t think this will last. And because Hosni Mubarak spent 30 years marginalizing and banning secular parties and opposition movements, there is no obvious path toward representative democracy. I am not overly worried, for the moment, in the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover, but the fortunes of the Brothers could change quickly, and dangerously.

My apologies for being a downer, but Egypt’s crisis has just begun.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Don’t even bother to try keeping up with Egypt on Twitter right now. Using the social networking service that allowed the world to follow the uprising in real time is like drinking from a fire hose. Monasosh, another leading Egypt-tweeter, reports, “Shit! Ppl are going crazy, screaming and running.” Danger Room friend Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation: “I am close by Tahrir and the roar even outside the square is really loud. Some happy people right now.”

On “We Are All Khalid Said,” the Facebook page that galvanized the 18-day mass protests, Nana Mohamed comments (via GoogleTranslate), “Egypt gets the salvation of God.” The mood is the polar opposite of the fury expressed on the page last night after dictator Hosni Mubarak defiantly vowed to stay in power until presidential elections this summer.

“I’ve worked my whole life to see the power of the people come to the fore,” activist Rabab Al Mahdi told Al Jazeera through tears.  “I never thought I would be alive to see it. It’s not just about Mubarak. It’s a protest that brought about the people’s power to bring about the change that no one, no one thought was possible.”

The euphoria is unimaginable. Peaceful protests, propelled but by no means determined by social media, dislodged a 30-year dictatorship in one of the most important Middle Eastern countries. Neither violent repression nor an Internet shutdown nor mass arrests of Facebook-fueled human rights activists could stop what’s become the #Jan25 revolution. Al Jazeera was blamed for the protests by Suleiman and its reporters were physically attacked and detained, but the network went to round-the-clock coverage that kept pressure on Mubarak.

Steven Taylor:

It sounds a bit ugly to say, but it is still true:  the removal of Mubarak and the transfer of power to the high command has to be understood as a coup d’etat.  Indeed, I will not be surprised if we learn at some point in the future that Mubarak did not “decide” to “step down” and to then “transfer” power to the military but rather that he was told by the military that that was what he was going to do.  The lack of a statement from Mubarak, and his removal from Cairo seems to support this notion (as did the dour pronouncement of the Vice President about the resignation—a stark contrast to his more defiant statements after Mubarak’s speech last night).

The constitution has been set aside as there are no provisions for a military takeover of this type.  And I would expect to see other extraconstitutional moves in the days to come (like, perhaps, a dissolution of parliament and/or the cabinet).

It is worth noting that while the protestors prompted these events that the state is under the control of the military, not the protestors.   The real question now is whether this abrogation of the constitution will lead to its replacement with a more liberal system or whether the military will consolidate power in its own hands.

In the coming days it will be most fascinating to see whether the military reaches out to opposition figures or whether it remains quiet about its intentions.

I would note, by the way, that to date there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a threat of an radical Islamic takeover in Egypt.

By the way:  to call it a coup is not to assign a negative assessment to the events.  Indeed, this may have been the best way to move things forward.  Still, it seems clear that Mubarak was not going to resign on his own and to foster a transition on his own (which he could have done).  Still, we do not even know what the military high command’s dispositions are at the moment in regards to reform.  No doubt they figured out that something had to be done to restore order and to forestall a movement towards greater chaos.  Beyond that, we do not know what will happen next.

Tom Maguire:

My instant, uninformed reaction – if Mubarak had announced last night that he was stepping aside in favor of Suleiman and a group of generals, the popular reaction would have been that the faces had changed but the regime remains the same.

Today, since he is stepping aside in response to overwhelming public rejection of his speech, the public response seems to be a sense of empowerment and change.

Slick marketing by the regime, if this flies.


Upon booth review, we are considering the possibility that Mubarak is secretly from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.  Yesterday his aides greased the skids and tried to get him to gdepart gracefully, without success.  Today, having seen how well he is loved and how successful his speech was, he is prepared to move on.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

There’s been a fair amount of speculation in recent days about now ex-President Mubarak’s preperations for departure. I just spoke with Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle East studies at Britain’s Durham University who focuses on the economic interests of Arab rulers. He cast doubt on the $70 billion figure which has been floated widely by the media recently, but said Mubarak undoubtedly has interests throughout the world to fall back on:


There would be something wrong with the people he paid if we knew much about this. A lot of the figures we’ve seen in the press are really just speculation.  As with gulf ruling family, his wealth his hidden abroad very carefully with layer upon layer of shell companies in London and the States. There’s also a big question about his numbered bank accounts in Europe, whether he will be able to recover those or not.

Davidson speculated that Mubarak’s ability to recover funds from his Swiss bank accounts, and the difficulties his now partner-in-exile Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has had in recovering his own assets, may have played a role in his delayed departure:

I would imagine that he’ll struggle to recover everything. A few weeks ago we had the Baby Doc ruling in Switzerland so that will clearly be playing on his mind. I suspect that this one of the reasons why he was trying to hold on as long as possible, so he could portray himself as having resigned peacefully as a legitimate president rather than having been ousted.

Despite having now holed up at his “Winter Residence” in Egypt — which is less a palace than a floor of a luxury hotel and golf resort —  and his earlier promise to die on Egyptian soil, Davidson believes that Mubarak is not long for Egypt:


He’ll be headed to the Gulf for sure. Perhaps not to Saudi like Ben Ali, but I think he’ll go to the UAE. [UAE Foreign Minister] Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed visited Cairo quite publicly and likely put a plan on the table to give him refuge.

Update: Sure enough, we now have reports that Switzerland is freezing Mubarak’s assets.

Jonathan Bernstein:

And so Mubarak is done.

How has Barack Obama done during this major foreign policy challenge? I don’t know, and you don’t know, and the people talking about it on TV and in the blogs don’t know; too much of what’s happened (and what may have happened) is behind the scenes. Not just what Obama and the Americans are doing, but it’s going to take some time for us to really know what many of the key Egyptians have been up to. If I had to guess, at this point, I’d say that at the very least he’s avoided any significant egregious blunders, but even that is extremely provisional. We won’t be able to really say much for a while.

In the meantime, I want to steer you to some very useful analysis of the presidency in foreign affairs from political scientists. Over at the Monkey Cage, read two excellent posts from Elizabeth Saunders (first one, second one), who studies the ways that presidents personally make a difference in foreign policy. And I also highly recommend a post by presidential scholar Matthew Dickinson, who emphasizes the constraints presidents work under in foreign and security issues. For those interested in more, read a journal article by Saunders on JFK and LBJ in Vietnam.

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He (We Gave Him Most Of Our Lives) Is Leaving (Sacrificed Most Of Our Lives)

Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick at NYT:

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt prepared to address the nation Thursday, with government officials indicating that they expected him to step aside, and Egypt’s military announcing that it is intervening in state affairs in an attempt to stop a three-week old uprising.

The military declared on state television that it would take measures “to maintain the homeland and the achievements and the aspirations of the great people of Egypt” and meet the demands of the protesters who have insisted on ending Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Several government officials said Mr. Mubarak is expected to announce his own resignation and pass authority to his hand-picked vice president, Omar Suleiman. But if the military does assume formal control of the government, it remains uncertain if it would give Mr. Suleiman, a former military officer, a leading role.

State television said in a bulletin that Mr. Mubarak would make a statement tonight. The news anchor stumbled on her words as she said Mr. Mubarak would speak “live on air from the presidential palace.” Footage just before then had showed the president meeting with Mr. Suleiman and the country’s prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

Weasel Zippers:

Victory, but for whom?

Michelle Malkin:

Twitter is hoot this past hour, with BIG-CAPITAL-LETTER BREAKING NEWS flying about Hosni Mubarak possibly stepping down. Or maybe not. Or maybe so.

CIA director Leon Panetta leaped forward to proclaim a “strong likelihood” that Mubarak would be out today.

And then, a CIA spokesman quickly retracted the statement because Panetta was basing his assessment on cable news reports — not independent US intel.

And now, Panetta’s office assures us they are “monitoring the situation.”

From White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, we learn that it’s a “fluid situation.”

I’ll let you decide what kind of fluid.

Stephen J. Smith at Reason:

American and Arab media are buzzing with late-breaking rumors that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will announce his resignation tonight, almost surely in anticipation of massive rallies planned for tomorrow after Friday prayers. If true, this would be a significant victory for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo and throughout Egypt throughout the last few weeks.

What comes next, however, is not clear. The military has been threatening a coup since yesterday, with the Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Sami Enan telling the masses in Tahrir today that “all your demands will be met…it ends tonight.” Although that statement is similar to ones made by other regime officials throughout the last few days, the mood among the protesters in Tahrir suggests that they expect the Army to be more receptive to their demands than Mubarak and his intelligence chief and newly-minted Vice President Omar Suleiman.

The big question now is who exactly will take over, and how temporary his rule will be. Speculation is changing rapidly, but the predominant theory that’s being pushed on Al Jazeera English right now is that the military was troubled by the possibility that Hosni Mubarak would try to hand over the reigns to Omar Suleiman, and that is why they’ve effectuated what appears to be a coup. Suleiman is Mubarak’s dyed-in-the-wool intelligence chief, and few have faith in him to carry out real reforms, with even his American backers expressing doubts about his commitment to change.

Doug Mataconis:

So, basically what we’ve got is a military coup with the promise of a democratic transition in the future. Whether that’s how it turns out remains to be seen, of course, but it seems clear that this is turning out the best it could so far under the circumstances.

Kevin Drum:

I’m not dumb enough to make any predictions about how this is going to end, but historically, when a country’s military announces that it’s taking over in order to “support the legitimate demands of the people,” that doesn’t bode well for the legitimate demands of the people. It may be good for stability, but count me skeptical that this is going to turn out well for democracy.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy

Andrew Exum:

I was in Beirut when Rafik Hariri was assassinated and lived in Lebanon for the next 12 months as well. The March 8th and 14th demonstrations, and the popular movement that led to the end of the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, were all very exciting to live through and witness — especially as a young guy, fresh out of the Army and studying the politics of the Middle East. (I learned more on the streets than I did in the library that year!) But in so, so many ways, the six months that followed the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon were more interesting than the frantic weeks that led up to the withdrawal itself. In those six months, we saw what had really changed in Lebanon, and the answer was not much at all. If the rumors are true, and if Hosni Mubarak steps down today, the most interesting “Friedman Unit” will be the six months starting now. We will see what kind of order replaces — or doesn’t replace — the current regime, and we will see how the disorganized opposition groups fracture and fight among themselves about the way forward. The true meaning of this uprising will be found not in what happens today or what has taken place in Tahrir Square over the past three weeks but in the weeks and months ahead.

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“You’ve Got To Stop This War In Afghanistan.” Richard Holbrooke: 1941-2010

Rajiv Chandrasekaran at WaPo:

Longtime U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, whose relentless prodding and deft maneuvering yielded the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia – a success he hoped to repeat as President Obama’s chief envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan – died Monday in Washington of complications from surgery to repair a torn aorta. He was 69.

A foreign policy adviser to four Democratic presidents, Mr. Holbrooke was a towering, one-of-a-kind presence who helped define American national security strategy over 40 years and three wars by connecting Washington politicians with New York elites and influential figures in capitals worldwide. He seemed to live on airplanes and move with equal confidence through Upper East Side cocktail parties, the halls of the White House and the slums of Pakistan.

Obama praised him as “a true giant of American foreign policy who has made America stronger, safer, and more respected. He was a truly unique figure who will be remembered for his tireless diplomacy, love of country, and pursuit of peace.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement that the United States “has lost one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants.”

Michael Crowley at Swampland at Time:

Holbrooke’s Last Words

“You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

Spoken to a Pakistani surgeon who was sedating him before surgery.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

Holbrooke’s untimely death comes as a particular shock to those of us at FP, who saw him only two weeks ago when he was honored at our Global Thinkers Gala and was at his pugnacious best. (Here’s a video of his speech at the event, in which he called his years at FP “among the most important in my life and my career.”

Holbrooke was a giant of American policy over the last half century, trouble-shooting in conflicts from Vietnam, to the Balkans, (about which he wrote his classic first-person account, To End a War) to Afghanistan. (He’s probably one of the few State Department figures to play a starring role in both the Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks documents.)

But while often seen as the consummate Foggy Bottom insider, Holbrooke was never sentimental about the business of American foreign policy. His first piece from the very first issue of Foreign Policy in 1970 takes on the bloated U.S. foreign-policy bureaucracy, or has he called it, “the machine that fails.” In Holbrooke’s view, the proliferation of massively-staffed agencies accountable for different aspects of U.S. foreign policy had made the entirely apparatus dangerously unwieldy.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

Diplomacy is a paradoxically insular world. And most of the nation’s foreign affairs get little treatment in the headlines. So I imagine that more than a few readers are wondering why we’re giving such major treatment to the death of Obama administration who many of you probably have never heard of or perhaps only in passing.

As the obituaries note, Holbrooke was key figure in US diplomacy for almost half a century. One fun fact: he authored a substantial portion of the Pentagon Papers. What may or may not come through as clearly was the size of the personality and the doggedness — a fact that likely kept him from the top job of Secretary of State in this and last Democratic administration.

Vice President Biden’s statement contains these two sentence: “Richard Holbrooke was a larger than life figure, who through his brilliance, determination and sheer force of will helped bend the curve of history in the direction of progress … He was a tireless negotiator, a relentless advocate for American interests, and the most talented diplomat we’ve had in a generation.”

His reputation rests on his role in ending the war in Yugoslavia, where he demonstrated a cold-eyed, unabashedly pragmatic mix of cajoling, bullying, threatening and negotiating mixed with bombing to achieve an eminently just and moral end, which makes him on several levels a hero to many of us.

Spencer Ackerman (entire post):

Out for a long-overdue drinks and dinner with foreign-policy-oriented friends tonight, all of a sudden our phones buzz. Richard Holbrooke, the most distinguished diplomat of his generation, has died. None of us know quite what to say. Our respect for Holbrooke has long been tempered with a certain exasperation with how his personality has overshadowed his talents and gotten in the way of his ambition.

And all of a sudden it dawned on me how trivial and thin that critique is. What other American diplomat can credibly say s/he ended a savage war? I read To End A War the year I came to Washington and decided I wanted to cover foreign policy — immediately, if I recall correctly, after I finished A Problem From Hell, partly because I didn’t want to stop exploring what that book mined — and still remember how superhuman a task Dayton seemed, even after factoring out Holbrooke’s interest in making it seem so arduous.

For 40 years, no other diplomat has played as impactful a role in as many of the nation’s crucibles. It’s him and Kissinger (and Kissinger’s been out of the arena for a long time). And whatever Holbrooke’s flaws were, his influence during these tests was ultimately wise and beneficial, quite unlike Kissinger’s. Think for a moment about how thin the line is in foreign affairs between principle and hubris; between the lessons of experience and the blinders they impose; between subtlety and miscalculation. Someone who manages to manage, as Holbrooke always did, is a precious resource.

We read our messages, and clinked our glasses in honor of a great man, thought briefly of his family, and drank. RIP.

Steve Clemons:

Richard Holbrooke is gone. This is not the time for cliches.

But I can’t imagine results-achieving American diplomacy without him. I will personally miss him so much — and am deeply saddened by his passing.

Condolences to Kati Marton, his amazing wife; and to all of his current team — and his many former staff who will carry on his ideas and work for years.

Steve Coll at New Yorker:

It was not easy to construct a quiet hour or two with Richard Holbrooke. I saw him regularly, as did other journalists and researchers who worked on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a long sit-down took some effort. Holbrooke was an accessible, open, and attentive person, but he was also in perpetual motion. He moved from meeting to meeting, conversation to conversation, and if you managed to sequester him somewhere for fifteen minutes or more, his cell phone was sure to ring—Islamabad, Kabul, the Secretary of State, somebody.

Earlier this year, however, we managed to arrange a private lunch in Washington on a Saturday. He invited me to meet him at the Four Seasons Hotel, near his home in Georgetown. The dining room at the hotel is not quite the watering hole for the wealthy and famous that it is in Manhattan, but it is a Washington-limited facsimile. When the Ambassador arrived the maître d’ attended him lavishly, scolding the waiter who had initially greeted him for failing to assign him an appropriately expansive and exclusive table.

He was carrying that morning’s Financial Times. He marvelled over an article he was reading about I. M. Pei and he wanted to talk about architecture for a while. As I had gotten to know him a little, I had discovered that he would speak about subjects such as acting or trends in academic history with genuine passion. He sometimes preferred those topics to the repetitive nuances of South Asia’s dysfunctional politics. He had a reputation for creating drama around himself; he was genuinely a theatrical man, in the sense of being physical and full of emotion and gesture. I came to think that he lived the way he did in part to avoid boredom.

While we ate lunch, Jerry Seinfeld and some of his entourage entered the dining room; Seinfeld was a guest at the hotel. “Jerry!” Holbrooke shouted, warmly. They were neighbors, it turned out, in New York and Telluride. We stood for introductions and chit-chat. Holbrooke asked what Seinfeld was working on and the comedian talked about his new reality-television show. In mid-explanation, however, Holbrooke’s cell phone rang. It was Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and so the Ambassador had to interrupt Seinfeld to take the call. Eventually we returned to our table and resumed our discussion about the Waziristans and the rest.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’m finding it mind-boggling (as is Jim Fallows) that Richard Holbrooke has died, because he was not the sort of person who dies, or at least dies before he’s finished with what he needed to finish. There was too much will inside him to achieve, and he had not yet achieved what he needed to achieve. The last time I spoke to him, a couple of months ago, I asked him if he would replace George Mitchell as the Middle East envoy when Mitchell inevitably stepped down. It always struck me that Holbrooke, with his titanic ego, his magnetism and his brute intelligence — and also his conniving, man-of-the-bazaar qualities so unusual in an American — would be the only American who could birth a Palestinian state and bring peace to the Middle East (Could you just imagine Bill Clinton as good cop and Holbrooke as bad? I could).  Holbrooke laughed off the question, but not really. There were challenges he needed to master before he mastered that one. He was not having great luck in Afghanistan, and he might very well have ultimately failed, but you have to ask yourself — who else? Who else could do what he did? Who else is there? Richard Holbrooke will be missed, even — especially — by the people he drove mad.

James Fallows:

I am thinking of a dozen stories now, starting in the early 1970s when he was editor of Foreign Policy magazine and I was a fledgling freelance writer for him. (Or when, a few years later, I had the odd experience of welcoming him to Plains, Georgia as part of the Carter campaign team.) I will store them up for another time. He was a tremendous force, overall for the betterment of American interests and the world’s. My sympathies to his wife Kati and the rest of his family.  It’s routine to say this, but in this case it’s really so: his absence will be felt.

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And The Silver Medal Goes To China… Or Does It?

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Ryan Avent at DiA at The Economist:

CHINA has, at long last, surpassed Japan in terms of nominal GDP, making the Chinese economy the world’s second largest. Second quarter output in China came in at $1.337 trillion, to Japan’s $1.288 trillion (Japan’s output was larger in the first quarter; for comparison, America’s second quarter nominal output was $3.522 trillion). The shift is sure to be widely discussed and widely misinterpreted. There are a few key things to mention.

First, while Chinese growth has been truly impressive in recent decades, the rapid overtaking of the Japanese economy also reflects years of disappointing growth there. This story is as much about Japan’s travails (and the risk to other rich economies facing a descent into Japanese-style stagnation) as it is China’s boom.

Second, China remains a very poor country in per capita terms. It uses over four times as many citizens as America to produce less than half America’s output. That’s a bit misleading—urban productivity in China doesn’t lag America by quite as much but is offset by the limited growth contribution of China’s hundreds of millions of rural poor. Still, the total output figures encourage observers to vastly overstate the developmental level of the Chinese economy.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

The world economy reached a major milestone Monday when China officially became the world’s second-largest economy, displacing Japan, which has held the title for more than four decades. The recognition of China’s new status came after the Japanese government reported that, after a quarter of slow economic growth, the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to be around $1.28 trillion, slightly below China’s $1.33 trillion. Do all countries use the same method for estimating GDP?

They’re supposed to. The System of National Accounts (SNA), a set of guidelines developed jointly by the United Nations, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank, specifies the methods by which countries measure the size of their economies.

There are two main methods for estimating GDP. One involves looking at production. This includes the value of the goods produced by all the firms in the country, the added value of government work projects, and — particularly in developing countries — the value of goods produced for personal consumption, like the crops grown by subsistence farmers. Not all wealth counts toward GDP. For instance, if you build a new house, that’s considered value added to the economy.  If a pre-existing house increases in value, the owner may be better off, but the country’s GDP is unaffected. Of course, companies often have a vested interest in exaggerating their profits, so reliable figures can sometimes be tough to calculate.

The other method of calculating GDP involves measuring total consumption of products by a country’s population. Since it relies mostly on household surveys, this method also has flaws. People tend to underreport the amount they spend on alcohol and cigarettes, for instance. But hopefully, the two measures should come up with close to the same number and when the results from the two approaches are compiled, they should give you a pretty good idea of the size of a country’s economy.


But for most countries, there’s no international legal authority to ensure that statistical offices are following the SNA guidelines, and international economists largely have to rely on self-reported numbers. While no one’s disputing China’s new status, the country has often been suspected of cooking its books. Although China is not a member of the OECD, it does cooperate with the organization in producing statistics according to the SNA guidelines.

Those guidelines are updated every few years. The most recent edition, which was made in 2008 and has so far only been implemented by Australia, was revised so that a firm’s investments in research and development are considered added value. This means that as the new standard is implemented worldwide over the next four years or so, many countries will see their GDP numbers increase by as much as 1 percent. That’s one way to stimulate growth.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

Let’s just put some of today’s headlines about Japan’s GDP being surpassed by Chinese GDP in perspective.

In the quarter, Japan had economic output of $1.28 trillion, or $10,085 per capital, based on a population of 127 million.


It had economic output of $1.337 trillion for the quarter, but a population of about $1.3 billion, so per-capita output of… $1000, about a 1/10th as big.

Let us know when China passes Albania.

Derek Scissors at Heritage:

It’s true that simple GDP does matter. The increasing size of China’s economy means the entire world is now affected by its voracious demand for oil, iron ore, and other commodities, as well as its low-cost supply of consumer electronics, clothing, and other goods.

But for successful economic development, what matters far more is the wealth of individuals and families. Japanese economic weakness is not shown in its still impressive 3rd place in world GDP but in its roughly 40th place on measures of personal income. From an economy once thought better managed and better performing than the U.S., the average citizen of Japan is now poorer than the average citizen of Mississippi. American citizens are noticeably richer than citizens of most other developed countries, such as in the EU. But Japan, in particular, is moving backward.

In contrast to Japan’s 20 years of weakness, there has been stunning growth in Chinese GDP per capita for 30 years. Yet China is still a developing economy. Chinese GDP per capita, even adjusted for purchasing power, is about 15 percent the level of the U.S. Further, GDP per capita actually exaggerates China’s performance.

The PRC’s incomplete data revisions undermine comparisons but, from the middle of 2000 to the middle of 2010, GDP per capita increased by more than 9500 yuan or, at present exchange rates, another $2800 in annual income. However, urban disposable income increased less than 6800 yuan, or about $2000 in annual income. And rural income increased less than 2000 yuan, or $600 in annual income.

Razib Khan at Discover

Robert Reich at Wall Street Pit:

Think of China as a giant production machine that’s growing 10 percent a year (this year, somewhat less). The machine sucks in more and more raw materials and components from rest of world – it’s now the world’s #1 buyer of iron ore and copper, and close to the #1 importer of crude oil – and spews out a growing mountain of stuff, along with huge environmental problems.

But because the Chinese consume a smaller and smaller proportion of this stuff, it has to be exported to consumers elsewhere (Europe, North America, Japan) to keep the Chinese working. Much of the money China earns by selling it around the world is reinvested in factories, roads, trains, and power plants that enlarge China’s capacity to produce far more. Another big portion is lent to or invested in the rest of the world (helping to finance America’s budget deficit at very low cost).

But this can’t go on. China’s workers won’t allow it. Workers in other nations who are losing their jobs won’t allow it, either.

The answer is not simply more labor agitation in China or an upward revaluation of China’s currency relative to the dollar. The problem is bigger. All over the world, we’re witnessing a growing gap between production and consumption, while the environment continues to degrade. The Chinese machine is fast heading for a breakdown only because it’s growing fastest.

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Not Only Are The 1980s Over, Apparently The 2000s Ended Today As Well

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

In a speech to a disabled veterans’ group in Georgia today, U.S. President Barack Obama will draw attention to the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Under the current withdrawal plan, which the president says is on track,  the American force will shrink to 50,000 troops by the end of August, down from 144,000. These remaining “advise and assist” troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.

“Make no mistake: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats,” Obama says in his prepared remarks.

Politically, the speech is likely an effort to draw attention to a largely unheralded success as criticism of the increasingly bloody war in Afghanistan mounts, particularly within his own party. The White House has pointed out that the total number of U.S. troops on the ground in both wars has declined from 177,000 when he took office to about 146,000 by the end of this month.

The U.S. military on Sunday refuted the Iraqi government’s claim that July was the deadliest month in the country since 2008. According to U.S. data, 222 people were killed in Iraqi violence last month, less than half the number claimed by Iraqi authorities.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Well, at least he didn’t announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq under a banner that said “Mission Accomplished.” He did it in front of the Disabled American Veterans, the most grave and sober audience imaginable. And appropriately so, after a war that should never have been fought, a war that by some estimates will cost $3 trillion before it’s done (including the health care services rendered to those represented by the DAV), a war whose casualties number in the 100s of thousands. The war in Iraq hasn’t been much in the news over the past year, but this is an important moment, a moment for  reflection, for humility in the face of a national disaster.

There is no “victory” in Iraq, nor will there be. There is something resembling stability, but that might not last, either. There is a semblance of democracy, but that may dissolve over time, or in the next few months, into a Shi’ite dictatorship–which, if not well-run, will yield to the near-inevitable military coup. Yes, Saddam is gone–and that is a good thing. The Kurds have a greater measure of independence and don’t have to live in fear of mass murder, which is a good thing, too. But Iran has been aggrandized. Its Iraqi allies, especially Muqtada Sadr’s populist movement, remain a force that will play a major role–arguably one more central than ours–in shaping the future of the country. This attempt by western neo-colonialists–that is, the Bush Administration–to construct an amenable Iraq will most likely end no better than previous western attempts have. Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation–the carnage and tragedy it wrought–will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own.

Lexington at The Economist:

What has America achieved by its intervention, if anything? Such is the continuing rancour about the decision to invade Iraq in the first place that it is almost impossible to debate this question dispassionately. The Economist was a strong supporter of the invasion (see here, for example), not because we thought Saddam Hussein had anything at all to do with 9/11 but because we were afraid that he was going to break out of the box that was built to contain him after the Gulf war of 1991, with hugely dangerous consequences for the region. But we were wrong about his WMD programmes. And we were terribly wrong about the human cost of the war. Had we foreseen that the country would collapse into such bloody mayhem after the invasion we would not have supported it.

All that said, where does Iraq stand now? Still a chaotic mess in most ways. The New York Times has an excellent, depressing story on how America and its allies have failed to provide something as simple and (especially in the scorching heat of Mesopotamia) vital as a decent supply of electricity for Baghdad since they took over the country the better part of a decade ago.

In politics, however, the picture is more mixed. Iraq has not yet replaced Saddam with another dictator, as many feared. And for the time being the country’s politics is not riven violently along sectarian lines. A largely peaceful election took place last spring with a high turnout but failed to produce a clear majority, and since then drift and stalemate have been the order of the day. The election showed that, contrary to what many experts say from afar, Arabs have no difficulty in understanding what democracy is all about and would like it for themselves. The subsequent stalemate shows why they do not get it: incumbent rulers cling leech-like to power no matter what wishes the people express at the ballot box.

The interesting question about this particular moment is: can America use its remaining military, political and economic heft in Iraq to jolt its politicians into heeding the wishes of Iraq’s voters? Should it even try? The prize is potentially huge: a peaceful election that actually succeeded in changing a government peacefully would be a signal achievement not just for Iraq but for the Arab world as a whole. The problem is that as America draws down its forces its ability to influence events diminishes, too. Besides, Iraq is supposedly sovereign now. So by what right can America meddle in its internal politics?

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy:

The political impasse is worrying Iraqis. “Everything is stopped,” one told the Washington Post. “There’s no work, no jobs. People are waiting. People are just buying food and saving money because they are afraid the situation will get worse in the future — worse than in 2006 and 2007.” People also are bummed by the lack of electricity, especially in the brutal height of Iraq’s punishing summer. And someone keeps blowing up the houses of police officers in the Fallujah area.

President Obama is gonna talk today in a speech to vets in Atlanta about how all this is no longer gonna be our problem.

I wonder if we had done a census in Iraq in say 2005 if that would have settled some of the political issues that have led to Iraq’s impasse.

Greg Sargent:

* Anybody remember that promise to end the Iraq War? In a measure of how much things have changed since Obama took office, the president plans to deliver a big speech today underscoring that he’s making good on his pledge to pull out of Iraq — and it’s anybody’s guess whether it will have any meaningful political impact.

The White House is hoping that Obama’s delivery on such a major promise will, you know, matter a bit to people. Public anxiety over Iraq was powerful enough to help decide a presidential election less than two years ago. But now, amazingly, it’s unclear how powerful a motivator this will be even for Democratic base voters.

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The New Dance At Carnival: The Sanctions Side-Step

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

In a surprise agreement negotiated by Brazil, Iran agreed to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey. The deal is similar to one negotiated with Western countries last October, but could now complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to ratify international sanctions against Iran.

Under the new deal, negotiated at a three-way meeting including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran would ship 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey for storage. In exchange, after one year Iran would be eligible to receive 265 pounds of material enriched in France and Russia. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said the country would continue to enrich uranium on its own, despite the new deal.

Under the similar deal negotiated last October, Iran would have shipped around two-thirds of its stockpile out of the country, leaving it with too little material to make a nuclear weapon. Since that time, Iran’s stockpile has grown significantly.

However, Iran’s apparent cooperation with the new agreement could make it less likely that Russia and China will support tougher sanctions against Iran in the U.N. security council and puts President Barack Obama in the awkward position of potentially rejecting a deal, nearly identical to one he negotiated months earlier.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

Two potential problems have emerged with the nuclear fuel swap deal that Iran agreed with Brazil and Turkey Sunday and announced today.

Under the agreement (available here),  Iran has essentially accepted the October 2009 fuel swap deal, agreeing to send 1200 kg of its low enriched uranium to Turkey within a month of the agreement being accepted by the U.S., Russia, France and the IAEA. In return, within a year, it would receive 120kg of highly enriched fuel for Iranian nuclear medical use, the agreement pledges.

One potential problem is that back in October, removing 1200 kg of Iran’s low enriched uranium from its then-stockpile of 1800 kg of LEU would have given a few months for negotiations to proceed without the pressure of Iran having an immediate breakout capacity.

Nine months later, Iran has accrued a bigger LEU stockpile now estimated at 2300 kg; removing 1200 kg therefore leaves Iran with 1100 kg, just enough for a breakout capacity. Since that stockpile is under IAEA safeguards, this may not be a deal breaker for most members of the international group known as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany), since the deal would be seen as a potential confidence building measure that would be accompanied by a return to international nuclear negotiations.

What’s seemingly potentially more problematic is that since February, Iran has been higher enriching small quantities of low enriched uranium to 20% at a research facility at Natanz, allegedly for nuclear medical needs. It is currently producing about 1 KG of the 20% higher enriched uranium a month, the Federation of American Scientist’s Ivanka Barzashka said.

But scanning the text of the agreement, there’s no mention of Iran halting its 20% higher enrichment under the deal, even though the deal would make way for the international community to provide Iran with the higher enriched fuel it supposedly requires for nuclear medical purposes.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

David Albright, the former weapons inspector, writes that the widespread skepticism that has greeted the Brazilian-brokered deal is justified:

The news this morning that Iran had agreed in principle (the text of the agreement published by the Guardian notes that Iran will inform the IAEA of its official agreement to the deal within seven days) to send 1200 kg of its low enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey has been greeted skeptically by the European Union, the United States, and others concerned that this declaration is merely an attempt to delay the imposition of U.N. Security Council sanctions.  The Security Council is debating these sanctions as a result of Iran’s continuing defiance of calls to halt its enrichment of uranium and accept adequate IAEA inspections.  Thus, while clarifications should be sought, this declaration provides no reason to stop negotiating in the Security Council the imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:

Sure enough, as soon as I run with my previous post on the Iran enrichment offer, here’s White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’s official comment. It’s fairly noncommittal. It doesn’t rule out the prospect that the foreign-enrichment deal might be substantive, but Gibbs highlights the concern the previous post did: that Iran appears to reserve the right to continue to pursue enrichment to a threshold state for a weapon (and for the technical side of why that is, check out Arms Control Wonk). As well, Gibbs wants more demonstration of why the deal can begin to settle Iran’s nuclear account without a new round of sanctions, and reiterates the U.S.’s commitment to diplomacy (i.e., not war not war not war) when it comes to that account.

So, at first blush, nothing really ruled in or ruled out.

Emanuele Ottolenghi at Commentary:

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.


UPDATE: Fred Kaplan at Slate

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Thailand Bloody Thailand

Jessica Olien at The Atlantic:

Anti-government protesters clad in red shirts and bandanas, agitating for weeks now at two major sites in Bangkok, have converged today to form a single, massive pool of crimson in the center of the Thai capital’s financial district. While living in Bangkok in 2006, I recall looking down from a skytrain station in this same area and witnessing a sea of yellow shirts marching through the streets. Those protests led to a peaceful coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, accused at the time of massive corruption and the same man whom many of the red shirts now hope to return to power.

This new wave of protests began to reach a critical mass several weeks ago but have been visible in the city sporadically for months. The protesters themselves, coming largely from the countryside, have little in the way of a specific agenda, other than demanding improved conditions for the rural poor and bashing Bangkok’s urban elite. Recently they have broken through the gates of the Thai parliament, taken over a television station, and literally painted the streets of the city red — with gallons of their own blood.

Mong Palatino at Global Voices:

21 dead. 858 injured.

These were the casualties in yesterday’s violent clash between Red Shirt protesters and soldiers in Thailand. The Red Shirts, which have been protesting in the streets for one month already, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign, dissolve the Parliament and call for a new round of elections.


Tony’s brief narration of the bloody event

Earlier in the day the army had pushed their way into Phan Fa bridge and had forced the protesters back, well this evening the protesters decided to mount a comeback.

At first the situation was relatively calm with the army playing soft soothing music to try and keep the situation peaceful. However that all changed in a split second as gunfire erupted and the crowd attacked with plastic water bottles and bamboo sticks.
The army, outnumbered and perhaps sensing that they were losing control opened fire on the crowd. People ran and ducked for cover as the sound of automatic gunfire range out over the protest site. Soon the protesters were picking up even deadlier weapons and suddenly the army was hit by a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The army at this point decided to retreat and surrendered their thanks and armour personnel carriers to the red shirts, who attacked them with sticks and shields.

Nirmal Ghosh was also an eyewitness of the violent clash

The army had bizarrely set up a sound truck which was blasting out ’70s disco hits in an attempt to keep the mood light. When I got there they were playing Boney M’s “Rasputin.” A local truce was negotiated between a red shirt and the army unit commander.

But red shirts reinforced their fellow protestors in large numbers both at Ratchaprasong and at Rajadamnoen, and by nightfall it seemed inevitable that the army’s push to clear Rajadamnoen and Pan Fah, would go wrong.

The mood at Ratchaprasong where the main red shirt protest is camped was stable and even upbeat. But at Rajadamnoen in the Democracy Monument-Kao San road area, hours of standoffs and some skirmishes erupted into nasty full scale pitched battles with troops shooting directly at red shirts with both rubber and live bullets.

At Khao San road, an area swarming with tourists, violence also erupted

Journotopia’s twitter feed is must-read: “Barricades going up at Khao San. Reds preparing for soldiers’ return. Several pools of blood on road…. Don’t listen to bland Thai govt reassuarances. Khao San is a dangerous place. I’ve seen 2 tourists with injuries… Khao San lis shuttered up, red shirts everywhere. It looks like a warzone… Pitched battles in streets around Khao San. Tourists ducking for cover. A red shirt with an AK47. Scenes of chaos at Khao San. Tourists tell me they saw horrific inuries, an old man with an eye hanging out.”

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

I thought it was going to be hard to top the great Latvian cow head protest of 2009 in stomach-turning outrageousness, but this literal blodbath might do it. The red cross is also complaining about the waste of perfectly good blood.

The protesters — supporters of ousted Thai Prime Minsiter Thaksin Shinawatra — want current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.

Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing:

Alex Ringis in Australia has been observing coverage of the “Red Shirt” protests in Thailand in recent days. Word on the street was that the anti-government protesters mixed up many tons of fish sauce (a stinky fermented condiment, like soy sauce only fishy-foul) and human feces as a sort of homemade non-lethal weapon. “Yep, fish sauce and SHIT. Anybody who gets in their way will have that lovely concoction hurled at them.” Alex sends an update today:

Our friends in Bangkok have said they’re staying indoors and out of the way, as moving around in the city at this stage is pretty pointless, and nobody wants to catch any stray bullets, heaven forbid. Local Bangkokers at this stage seem to just be pretty bloody annoyed that a bunch of country bumpkins have rolled in and stopped them from going about their daily business, at least at this stage. Today the Red Shirts gathered outside the 11th Infantry Regiment’s army base in Bangkok – said to be where PM Abhisit Vejajiva was holding up – he left via helicopter not long after they arrived. Interesting trivia is that the Military’s way of dealing with them was playing them I’saan music over loudhailers, and it was also reported that they even addressed the crowd as “brothers and sisters”, speaking in I’saan.

What’s transpiring is very interesting – the Red Shirts clearly want some kind of a confrontation, or violence, to prove that the “evil” government intends to repress and harm them. But so far, the Military and the government have been on their best behaviour.

The question remains, what will the extreme elements within the red shirts (who were said to have started the violence in April 09’s protests) do when they realise that the Military is not going to fire the first shot? Latest reports have the Red Shirts saying that Government Ministers will have to “Walk across one thousand liters of blood” to get to work at government house tomorrow – so it remains to be seen what they mean by that. Today news that four M-79 grenades were fired into a military batallion outside the State TV headquarters, and STILL no military crackdown. This is incredible and unprecedented – the army are quite obviously on their best behaviour. The Bangkok Post reports that arrests have been made in connection with the case. So far, our direct sources in Bangkok seem to be the best source of information. The Nation and The Bangkok Post (the two main English Dailies) are respectively suspiciously quiet, and suspiciously biased, so I’m thinking there’s multiple gag orders in play, though I do get some decent tidbids now and then from my favorite Bangkok blog – 2bangkok.com The rumour at present is that Thaksin Shinawatra is in Montenegro – both Germany and the UK have said that they would not accept him, and if he was recognised in their country, he would be detained. The man is literally on the run, as it were.

And finally, my personal feeling is that the “mainstream media” organisation that seems to be offering the absolute best coverage on the situation so far is – surprise surprise – Al Jazzeera’s English service. Im guessing their primary interest is based on the fact that Thaksin Shinawatra was a resident of Dubai for the past twelve months or so – in any case, they are covering the story closely, and it’s been on the front page for over 12 hours.

Jason Rezaian at Slate:

Iranians and Thais tend to repeat a certain phrase: “This is Iran” or “This is Thailand.” I didn’t know that about Thailand until I read a Bangkok Post editorial after April 10’s bloody street protests. In both countries, the term can be loosely interpreted to mean, “What do you expect me to do about it?” Decades of corruption, authoritarian rule, and ancient belief systems that say life and its many circumstances are beyond one’s control make the saying commonplace, but it can be maddening, especially for someone raised in a democratic society.

Perhaps this is why the movements in Iran and Thailand, as played out on the streets of Tehran and Bangkok, have been so gripping: In both places, people are beginning to believe they have some control.

UPDATE: Max Fisher at The Atlantic

UPDATE #2: More Fisher


Filed under Foreign Affairs, Global Hot Spots

Whoever Paid For That Microphone, He Paid For It In Pounds

Will Heaven at The Telegraph liveblogs:

9.42pm (WH) Onto health, but still the pace is bothering me. The American Presidential debates are an opportunity for US politicians to look, well, presidential. But do any of ours look electable? It’s scatter-gun with notes.

9.40pm (WH) Cameron sounding positively Churchillian defending Trident.

9.39pm (RC) A dose of relative calm when talk turns to the military: mood more sober and serious. Brown comes off well, as can talk with gravitas about the tough decisions he’s had to make as PM.

9.37pm Neil Midgley tweets: “Another ITV fail – blocking line of sight from leaders to audience with cameras.” Meanwhile, Iain Dale says: “Brown’s lipstick is running. Or becoming more and more orange.”

9.34pm Damian Thompson writes:

We’ve got to remove this dark cloud on this economy by acting now, says Cameron. He makes it sound like a minor operation: an appendectomy rather than a quadruple bypass. Brown goes on to imply that if you act now the patient will die. Clegg: tax the banks, “but let’s not get obsessed about mythical savings on waste” or pretend that it’s all down to timing. Probably sounds grown-up to younger people in the audience; to anyone with experience of election tactics, it’s textbook Liberal Democrat opportunism. The idea that control-freak Lib Dems would be prepared to tackle even the silliest quangos is absurd. This is a party that can’t see a dog turd on the pavement without wanting to set up a committee to discuss “options” for cleaning it up.

9.33pm Janet Daley asks:

Why is DC allowing GB to say that Tories would be “taking £6 billion out of the economy”? Raising taxes takes money out of the economy, cutting them puts money back into the real economy.

9.31pm (WH) Alastair Campbell tweets: “The longer it goes on the more shallow Cameron looks and the more substantial Gordon looks. Clegg doing well as I knew he would.” A reluctant admission?

9.29pm (RC) “The only way we’ve kept our economy moving is because the Government stepped in to ensure there were sufficient levels of growth,” says Gordon. Um… didn’t it contract quite significantly?

9.28pm Ed West notes:  Cameron used the phrase “jobs tax” about half a dozen times in 120 seconds.

9.27pm James Delingpole asks:

Clegg now TOTALLY overdoing the engagement with the questioner thing. “Where are you Robert?” he asks. Robert, sitting at the back, looks deeply embarrassed. It’s like when Jeffrey Archer overdoes the repeating-your-name-to-show-you-he-remembers-it-and-cares trick. You’d really rather he didn’t. It’s so not English.

9.26pm (RC) Cameron talks about ‘removing’ the deficit, glossing over the fact that this will involve a profound restructuring of our economy and public sector. Brown repeats standard line about big choices and securing the recovery – referring to the Tories’ NI policy as “taking money out of the economy”, which is a bizarre interpretation by any standards. Clegg doing well – mastered his brief, and can refer to Lib Dems’ shiny policies without the others having time to knock them down.

9.24pm Krishnan Guru-Murthy tweets: “Suspect Cameron will regret having the centre position – it isn’t helping him. Clegg acting as though he was in middle anyway.”

9.22pm Bryony Gordon sends us her thoughts:

Please stop banging on about all the real people you have met. Clegg, stop waving your hands about – you look like you want to throttle Stewart. Oh, and was the set stolen from a kilroy silk show from the early 90s?

9.21pm Damian Thompson notes:

This might seem like a trivial point, but it isn’t. Dave’s makeup has been severely botched. I’ve seen less slap on the faces of a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe in Reading. Not only that, but someone has attempted to darken his eyebrows; someone in a hurry, by the looks of it. The Leader of the Opposition is (I think) putting in a confident performance, but he is orange. And some idiot on his staff has said: that looks fine.

9.19pm Harry Mount writes:

The debate is only really coming alive in the press room here in Manchester when one of them gets angry. A groan goes up the moment they try to squeeze in a much-rehearsed soundbite (”You can’t airbrush your policies, David, the way you airbrush your posters”) or furiously use the questioner’s first name (”Yes, Jacqueline,” says Nick; “Yes, Helen,” says Dave).

9.17pm (RC) Further to last post, think problem is lack of applause. People in press room are referring to particular answers getting nods from the crowd – especially Cameron and Clegg talking about personal experiences with education – but there’s no audible cue that tells you how well things went down.

9.15pm (RC) After a long debate about how to clean up politics – which Nick Clegg managed to focus on a pledge of his own party’s – the abiding impression is that the format is leading each leader to cancel the others out somewhat. The result – which seems to be confirmed by commentary so far – is that people aren’t having their minds changed, but their existing instincts confirmed. Interventions by moderator also make the leaders seem like naughty schoolboys, which doesn’t help them appear statesmanlike.

Andrew Sullivan’s live-blog:

4.08 pm Just an anthropological point: Cameron just tried to sum up what they all agree on. It was a classic Alpha Male move. I give him a Beta-plus. Brown so far is combative and smiling his grisly smile constantly. Clegg comes across as a bit of a whiner – which is always the trap for the third party. But he’s very effective and telegenic. No question that Clegg and Cameron seem of a different and younger generation. But you can see why nervous voters might find the older bloke a little more reassuring in a pinch.

But if Cameron is trying to prove he is of prime ministerial caliber, he’s succeeding. The policy differences are, so far, numbingly small.

4.06 pm Brown’s raising the question of hereditary peers in the House of Lords is classic class-baiting Cameron.

4.02 pm. Cameron wants to streamline government – and cut the number of MPs – to reduce the fiddling of parliamentary expense accounts? Shurely shome mishtake. Meanwhile, Brown keeps sucking up to the Lib Dems. A hint of the possibility of a Lib-Lab pact? Cameron fights back with a quite effective parry on the tardiness of Labour’s interest in constitutional reform. If they wanted to get rid of hereditary peers, they could have done so in the last 13 years.

4.00 pm. Brown says he was “shocked and sickened” by the expenses scandal among members of parliament. He wants recalls of dodgy MPs. He wants an elected House of Lords.

3.58 pm. Brown is getting very aggressive. He keeps interrupting Cameron. Now there’s a jibe about air-brushing. It doesn’t seem that fitting for a prime minister. It seems a little insidery. But without imbibing the current atmosphere in Britain lately, it’s hard for me to judge how this strategy will go down with the viewers.

3.55 pm. Brown tries to get a rehearsed joke about Tory posters. But he’s the first to start bickering and talking about the meta-issues. Another Brown rehearsed line: “This is not Question Time, David. This is Answer Time.” Good line. Badly delivered. But Cameron ducks the question on funding of the police.

3.54 pm. Brown offers legal injunctions against the police if a case lags. He’s implying that Tory budget cuts could reduce the number of cops on the street. Clegg just keeps repeating that nothing seems to change as the two parties alternate in power.

3.50 pm On crime, more police on the streets seems a common refrain. Cameron wants to get drug addicts off the streets and into rehab. Rehab as an anti-crime measure is unimaginable in an American context. And from the right?

3.48 pm. Cameron touts welfare reform as a cure for immigration excesses. Now he’s talking about tougher sentences for burglars and murderers. Not exactly hugging hoodies, is it?

3.44 pm They’re all vying to get immigration “under control”. Brown rather awkwardly says it already is under control. But he suffers the plight of incumbency. If they’ve been in office for the past 13 years, it’s a little late to get tough. Clegg keeps banging on about regional caps for immigrants – not a national one.

3.39 pm Cameron’s hair is much more presidential. And his first immigration answer – a clear vow to reduce immigration levels – seems clearer than Brown’s obviously scripted description of his meeting with chefs. Yes, chefs.

Iain Martin’s live blog at WSJ

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

The format: FAST! If anything, I think U.S. networks could learn from ITV’s presentation of the debate, which kept statements short, questions direct and substantive, and a moderator who was willing to cut off the candidates when they started to ramble or repeat themselves.

That being said, all three candidates seemed to be rushing to get as much information as possible, and I suspect that many voters probably had a hard time following the discussion at times. At times, they seemed to be struggling to present their entire platform when a few bullet points would have sufficed.

Gordon Brown: Not surprisingly, the dour prime minister seemed the most ill-at-ease with the debate concept, often getting bogged down in unnecessary detail and becoming tetchy in response to criticism. It’s hard to say after watching the debate what Brown’s pitch is, other than it’s way too dangerous to elect David Cameron. In particular, challenging the premise of a question by a soldier complaining about inadequate equipment for troops in Afghanistan seemed like a mistake. Brown was strongest on the economic questions where he seemed to effectively paint Cameron’s proposals as vague.

David Cameron: Not surprisingly, the younger more dynamic Cameron seemed much more comfortable with the format and his “hope over fear” closing statement was strong (though the constant invocations of “hope” and “change” bordered on hopejacking). Cameron dominated the early questions on immigration and law-and-order issues, though he seemed to get seriously outwonked by both Brown and Clegg on pocketbook issues. He didn’t do a whole lot to dispel his image as a smooth-talking policy lightweight.

Nick Clegg: Meh. The third-party candidate scored a few hits, but had a hard time distinguishing his political positions from Brown’s or his anti-establishment bona fides from Cameron. The anti-nuclear rhetoric he broke out on the defense question seemed both unrealistic and a bit of a non sequitur. It is telling how many times both Cameron and Brown began their answers with “I agree with Nick,” though.

Overall winner: Cameron, though given how much the format favored the conservative, it wasn’t exactly a knockout punch.

Janet Daily at The Telegraph:

No great surprises then. Gordon Brown was the most negative of the three, using much of his allotted time to attack David Cameron. He was also boorish, interrupting Cameron and even talking over the chairman. He made a gratuitously nasty reference to Cameron having “airbrushed” his own poster, and a quite irrelevant jibe about Lord Ashcroft. He claimed repeatedly that problems such as immigration and crime were already under control, but then said that his party was planning to deal with them. He was, as usual, repetitive and obsessive in his insistence on “spending” as his trump card.

David Cameron did very well without adding anything especially startling or novel to the debate. What came across was clarity, authenticity and an appropriately authoritative manner for a potential prime minister. I thought he missed a precious opportunity to slap down Brown’s absurd assertion that the Tories would be “taking six billion pounds out of the economy” by not implementing most of the Labour National Insurance rise when, in fact, it is raising tax that takes money out of the real economy. But Cameron did make the most of the disastrous effect that the NIC rise would have on the NHS and education budgets.

Nick Clegg was assiduously courted by the Prime Minister: I lost count of how many times Brown said, “I agree with Nick”. Clegg began with platitudes but livened up later as he got into his predictable condemnations of the “two old parties”. (Could somebody please tell him that the Liberals are a much older party than Labour?) It will take a pretty sophisticated viewer to appreciate that the LibDems have an absurdly unfair advantage in being able to offer an utterly unrealistic programme. Clegg could attack both the real alternatives without worrying about the credibility of his own policies. So it is scarcely surprising that he “won” most of the instant polls. My guess is that this will make scarcely any difference to the outcome of the election except to confirm that Brown is a dead man walking.

Gideon Rachman at Financial Times:

Was this the night when the Conservative Party saw the chance of an overall majority slip away, ensuring that Britain is heading for a hung parliament? My impressions of the first ever leaders’ debate seems to be the same as that of the great British public. Nick Clegg won.

Snap polls after the debate showed the Lib Dem leader as the clear victor. More significantly, the first poll of post-debate voting intentions that I’ve seen – just broadcast on Sky News – showed a big jump in those saying that they intend to vote for the Lib Dems. They went up from 19% in the polls to 26%, just behind Labour. Of course, there are still three weeks and two debates to go. But, if that trend holds, we’re definitely going to end up with a hung parliament – with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.

So what went right for Clegg? As I wrote on my blog a few days ago, I’ve long been slightly puzzled about why the charm and quickness that I’ve seen from Clegg in private has never really translated into his public image as leader. Tonight that changed. I think the format favoured Clegg. Or rather Question Time in parliament which, up until now, has been the only opportunity he has had to go head-to-head with the other leaders, does the Lib Dem leader no favours. He is just no good at the shouted put-downs that are the essence of Question Time and is also shoved off to one side of the chamber, away from the two main leaders, which marginalises him. Tonight he debated Cameron and Brown on equal terms – and in a format that favoured warmth and under-stated humour, rather than raw aggression and one-liners. It worked much better for him.

Clegg’s main tactic was obvious but effective. He portrayed the two other leaders as representatives of an exhausted system, and went some way to capturing the crucial banner as the “change” candidate. He was also effective in giving the impression that he alone was being honest about the fiscal dilemmas that Britain is going to face. His attack on David Cameron for suggesting that fiscal problems can be solved by cutting “waste” was skilful. Of course, there were also contradictions in Clegg’s presentation. On the one hand, he argued that “cutting waste” is largely an irrelevance  – and then he reeled off a list of wasteful projects that needed to be cut. But apparently it didn’t matter.

Fraser Nelson at The Spectator:

None of them dropped any clangers – nor did anyone have killer one-liners. I’m struggling to recall a single line from the debate. Cameron scored when he thanked the soldier and the nurse for their service: he relied on anecdotes, whereas Brown emptied his statistics on the poor viewer. I can’t deny that Clegg’s answers were stronger than I expected, and those who had never heard of him may well have been impressed. From the offset, it was said that Clegg had most to gain from these debates. So it was to prove.

Clegg gorged on the plague-on-both-your-houses lines, pitching desperately for the anti-politics vote. “All I would appeal for is a bit of honesty in this debate” and “The more they argue, the more they sound like each other.” Etc.

Only a few exchanges jumped out at me. The first was the military.  Brown starts, as he always does when talking about the military, with a garbled sentence  “Let me say, first of all, my pride and my admiration for the Armed Forces.” Brown can never speak in grammatically correct sentences when talking about the military (sending “best wishes” to the deceased, etc) because he does not understand the military. “Every Urgent Operational Requirement that our Armed Forces have asked us for has been met,” drones Brown. Then says how terrorist plots start “in that region” (that’s his way of saying “Pakistan”).  Cameron’s response, when it came, was far more subdued. He should have said it was a scandal that soldiers died in Belfast-era Range Rovers etc – there are enough examples to go through. Instead, he mentioned a policy area. Cameron was evidently told not to go after Brown in this way, not to be too Flashman (to use Alan Johnson’s analogy). A shame, in my view. I could have seen far more raw anger from Cameron, because he does feel it.

Cameron was at his most convincing when speaking directly to the nurse. “Can I thank you for your incredible service to the NHS. What it did for my family and my son, I will never forget. The dedication, the love. Thank you for all that you have done.” This left statistics-spouting Brown in the shade.  And on the economy, he beat Brown by dismissing his (ridiculous) claim that £6bn of cuts posed some mortal danger to the economy. All he’s doing is proposing is to cut 1 percent of government spending: what family has not had to cut their budget by at least as much? The answer, he said, is to cut the waste and cut the tax.

I was once given a George W. Bush doll which, if you pressed a button on his lapel, would recite one of his soundbites. At times, this is what this debate felt like. At every given topic, the leaders recited their given answers. People have heard Brown’s repertoire, they’ve heard Cameron’s. But not Clegg’s. He enjoyed the novelty factor. I hope he enjoys it: tonight may very well be the high point of his political career.

Alex Massie:

On immigration and crime all three men tried to out-populist one another. Who knew that foreign students were such a threat to this green and pleasant land? Who knew that foreign chefs could possibly be such a danger? When Nick Clegg recounted an anecdote about how a poor chap had been burgled while at his father’s funeral one half-expected him to add that, “And by the way, the father was murdered by a cleaver-wielding Vietnamese chef…”

True, David Cameron was right to stress the importance of rehabilitation and, later, of welfare reform. But these were small nuggets of decency and common-sense in a swamp of hysteria and lie-telling populism that was enough to make one think that my three-year old niece’s analysis was depressingly accurate.

Things did, mercifully, get a little better thereafter and there was more give and take and general spikiness than seemed likely given the absurdly stringent nature of the “rules”. It was both more interesting and even more exasperating than one expected.

Nick Clegg clearly won and not just on the basis of the Expectations Game either. He was personable, effective and pretty good at putting across his entirely reasonable “Plague on Both Your Houses” stance.

On the plus side for David Cameron his opening statement was the sharpest, clearest and best, noting and appreciating the public’s mood. His closing statement was fine too but for long periods of the contest Cameron seemed oddly passive and, at times, strangely shut out of the contest. My impression was that he was the most nervous of the participants but, of course, I may be mistaken.

More culpably, time and time again Cameron declined to call Brown out. Perhaps he didn’t want to seem angry or aggressive but it was absurd for him to fail to challenge Brown’s repeated assertions that raising taxes by £6bn fewer pounds somehow constitutes “taking money out of the economy”. If it’s not paid in tax then does this money simply evaporate? Cameron never made this argument. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would have. Instead Dave became bogged down in tedious details about waste and 1% of government revenue. A real missed opportunity.

And that’s rather how I feel the whole night was for Cameron. He could have slain Brown tonight but he did not. The result of that failure was to let Brown escape.

Martin Bright at The Spectator:

Shall we stop being cynical for a moment and congratulate Brown, Cameron and Clegg for being the first political leaders in Britain to take part in a televised election debate? Indeed, we should particularly congratulate Gordon Brown for agreeing to this. He had by far the most to lose.

There is absolutely no doubt that Nick Clegg won this. He faltered from time to time, but was the only one confident enough to take thoughtful (if sometimes stagey) pauses.

I thought Gordon Brown also did surprisingly well. He kept his cool and showed that he is an accomplished debater. His jokes were over-prepared and characteristically dreadful, but he warmed up through the 90 minutes and challenged Cameron very effectively on several occasions, especially over police spending.

Cameron was disappointing, but people forget that he was not entirely convincing against David Davis in the Tory leadership debates.

Gordon Brown should be worried precisely because he did relatively well in the debate. For some reason this doesn’t appear to have made any impact on the way people thought about him.

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Apparently, The Kyrgyzstan Government Has Just Been Overthrown. So, How Has Your Afternoon Been?

Clifford Levy at NYT:

Large-scale protests appeared to overthrow the government of Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday and its president fled before an outbreak of mayhem and violence in the capital of Bishkek and elsewhere in the country, an important Amerian ally in Central Asia. Government officials said at least 41 people had been killed in fighting between riot police officers and demonstrators.

While the opposition declared that it was forming its own government, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev left Bishkek in the presidential plane, though it was not clear whether he was leaving the country or heading to another Kyrgyz city. Earlier in the day, the police used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against a crowd of thousands that massed in front of the presidential office in Bishkek, according to witness accounts.

Dinara Saginbayeva, a Kyrgyz health official, said in a telephone interview that at least 41 people had been killed, “but it could end up being much more.” She said more than 350 people had been wounded in Bishkek alone, with scores of others wounded in protests around the country.

Opposition leaders said the toll could be as high as 100 people.

Laura Rozen at Politico

Jay Carmella at Jurist:

Anti-government protesters in Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday set fire to the prosecutor-general’s office amid violent demonstrations that have led to the death of the interior minister, the arrest of several opposition leaders, and the deaths of dozens of protesters. The protests against President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile], which appear prompted [NYT report] in part by a drastic increase in utility costs, began late Tuesday night in the city Talas then spread throughout the country Wednesday. Interior Minister Moldomus Kongantiyev was killed [AFP report] during an attack by protesters in Talas. Former prime minister and presidential candidate Almazbek Atambayev and former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebayev were among the many opposition leaders arrested [AFP report] as a result of the protests. Bakiyev has declared a state of emergency throughout the country, urging citizens to remain indoors. The protesters have also taken control [Reuters report] of the country’s television station, and approximately a thousand people surrounded the prosecutor-general’s office, reportedly setting it on fire. Reports vary as to the number of citizens that have been killed during the protests, with news organizations reporting as many as 50. Kyrgyz police used bullets and tear gas to protect the presidential office in Bishkek.

The protests come a week after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called on Kyrgyzstan to protect all forms of human rights [JURIST report], including “free speech and freedom of the media.” The statements follow recent events [RIA Novosti report] in the country that include the shutdown of an opposition newspaper, a police raid on a local television station that resulted in the station being taken off the air, and the confiscation of computers from a video web portal based on allegations of pirated software use. Opposition members gathered in support [RFE/RL report] of Ban’s comments. Kyrgyzstan was once hailed as a model for democracy in the Central Asian countries that made up the former Soviet Union. It is believed that much of the media pressure [AP report] is the result of the election of Bakiyev following the Tulip revolution that removed Askar Akayev from power in 2005. Last year, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] criticized Kyrgyzstan over its treatment of journalists in its 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [DOS materials; JURIST report].

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

Stores are being looted, the office of the state broadcaster has been raided and automatic weapons fire has been exchanged between rioters and security forces. There are reports of black smoke rising from the parliament building.

The whereabouts of President Kurmanbak Bakiyev are still unknown but rumors are flying:

The whereabouts of President Bakiyev as of the evening of April 7 could not be verified. Some rumors circulating in the city suggested that he had taken refuge at the US air base at Manas, outside of Bishkek. Other reports claimed that he had fled the country. Opposition leaders, including Omurbek Tekebayev and Almazbek Atambayev, were reportedly released after being taken into custody on April 6.

Earlier in the day, Bakiyev declared a state of emergency following initial clashes between police and protesters outside the government headquarters. During the afternoon, demonstrators drove two trucks into the White House gates. They caught fire as Ministry of Interior forces stationed within the compound shot at the vehicles with what appeared to be live ammunition, a EurasiaNet.org correspondent witnessed.

Bakiyev himself took power in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution,” overthrowing authoritarian President Askar Ayakev, but his tenure has been marked by increasing authoritarianism and corruption.

If Bakiyev were actually taking refuge at Manas, it would be ironic. The presidents numerous threats to shut down the facility have been a perpetual annoyance to the Pentagon, which relies on Manas to bring goods into Afghanistan.

James Joyner:

It’s no secret that Kyrgyzstan (or, as our State Department calls it, “the Kyrgyz Republic”) is a less-than-democratic society.  Bakiyev’s reelection was widely considered fraudulent.  But, more often than not, we’re forced to deal with the people who control the levers of power in a given state.

Daniel Larison:

The news out of Kyrgyzstan is awful, and the latest events there should serve as yet another reminder that the Bakiyev regime has been significantly worse for Kyrgyzstan than the government Western governments and media outlets were so happy to see overthrown in yet another “color” revolution. Of all the governments challenged by “people power” protests in the last decade, Akayev’s was probably the most inoffensive and Akayev himself was a fair sight better than some of the other Central Asian rulers Washington continues to embrace to this day. Akayev’s overthrow never had much to do with “people power” or “democracy vs. dictatorship,” but was simply a contest between the ruler and the country’s elites and the replacement of one family’s control of the government with that of another.


Bakiyev has since imitated Akayev’s authoritarian habits and became even worse than Akayev ever was. The dead protesters in Bishkek are proof of that. The good news in all of this is that Bakiyev seems to have fled, but not before his forces have killed at least 17 and perhaps as many as 100 people according to AP reporting of the opposition’s death toll claims. These are the fruits of yet another “color revolution” that far too many Westerners enthused about out of misguided idealism, weird anti-Russian hang-ups or ideological fantasies of a global democratic revolution. Perhaps the most absurd expression of the enthusiasm for the so-called “Tulip Revolution” was a Chicago Tribune op-ed celebrating Akayev’s downfall and lauding John Paul II (no, really) as being somehow ultimately responsible, but there was virtual unanimity in the Western press that one more bad authoritarian was succumbing to the inevitable, glorious triumph of democracy. As it turned out, Akayev may have been the best Kyrgyzstan was going to be able to get, and ever since he was deposed Kyrgyzstan has been less stable, governed less well, and now joins Georgia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a new scene of violent repression of civilian protesters by a U.S.-allied government. Might we begin to learn from this that foreign political clashes are not usually clearly-defined ideological contests between democrats and authoritarians, and that there not much reason to celebrate the destabilization, political upheaval and disorder that such things usually invole?

Jesse Walker at Reason

UPDATE: Evgeny Morozov at Foreign Policy

Eugene Huskey at Salon

UPDATE #2: More Larison


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Talking Turkey

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

Over strong Turkish objections, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee narrowly approved a resolution yesterday recognizing the 1915 massacre of Armenian civilians as “genocide.” An infuriated Turkish government has recalled its ambassador to Ankara for consultations.

The panel also acted against the recommendation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman on Wednesday night to warn that the resolution could negatively impact Turkish-American relations as well as the ongoing Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process. Clinton, along with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, promised to recognize the genocide during her campaign for the presidency.

“I don’t pretend to be a professional historian,” Berman said before the vote, “but the vast majority of experts agree that the tragic massacre of Armenians constitutes a genocide.” The nine-page resolution said the international community’s failure to respond to the genocide was ” a reason why similar genocides have recurred and may recur in the future.”

A Turkish government statement condemned the vote, saying, ““This decision, which could adversely affect our co-operation on a wide common agenda with the US, also regrettably attests to a lack of strategic vision.”

Alex Massie at Sully’s place:

Poor Armenia. Just about the only time that wee country gets a mention in Washington is when the perennial Recognise-the-Genocide issue comes up. As tradition demands, the Secretary of State lobbied Congress to avoid passing anything resembling or hinting at any such thing. Nevertheless the Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23-22 in favour of the annual motion acknowledging the ghastliness. Whether it makes it to the floor remains a moot issue.

Everyone, I think, recognises the practical and political difficulties in siding with the Armenians or, as may be the case, handing a sop to the American-Armenian community. Turkey matters more than Armenia. And Turkey is touchy and macho and quick to take offense. No surprise then that their ambassador to Washington has been called back to Ankara for “discussions”.


To be fair to Obama he is little worse than his predecessor who also raised Armenian hopes only to pass the issue on to his successor. But this issue should also be a reminder that you cannot wholly leave the campaign behind once you assume office and that you should, perhaps, be wary of writing cheques you cannot cash. Otherwise you look like a chump at best and, more probably, a duplicitous fraud.

Sure, yes, this is, in many ways, vastly more trivial than recent improvements in Yerevan-Ankara relations. It may well be that, as was true last year, passing the resolution and gaining Presidential approval might set back the bigger, broader, better picture. But this too should be a memo to 2012 candidates: don’t make cheap commitments you have few intentions of honouring.

DiA at The Economist:

Mr Obama’s team says that he personally recognises the Armenian genocide, but that he opposes the resolution. You could say that “as a senator” he supported the resolution (the kind of thing senators, responding to narrower constituencies, might naturally do), while “as president” he only recognises the genocide himself, while opposing the resolution (as he is right to do, as the overall steward of American foreign policy). The president’s men seem to be looking for a technical fix here, as a way of saying he hadn’t broken his promise. But it’s just a bit too typical of the administration’s often overly lawyerly devotion to “honesty”. (Shades of “what ‘is’ is”.)

Mr Obama’s position is the right one, today—it’s important to recognise historical facts, but it’s not up to Congress or anyone else to legislate those facts, and it’s manifestly stupid to do so if it will infuriate a crucial ally. He never hould have made that promise, realising that he could one day end up in the office he was seeking.

James Joyner:

It’s difficult to gauge who’s being sillier here: The Turks for being unable to admit that which has been obvious to everyone else for decades or the U.S. Congress for banging this drum every year over an incident that transpired nearly a century ago and that has zero bearing on the United States except that bringing it up alienates an important ally. If forced to choose, I’d take the latter.  While domestic politics plays an important role in explaining the idiocy in both Ankara and Washington, it’s decidedly more pressing there than here.

Ben Katcher at The Washington Note:

Even before the resolution, the United States’ popularity in Turkey was dismal. According to the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, only 14% of Turks view the United States favorably – a remarkable figure for a country that has been a major U.S. ally since the end of the Second World War. That number is sure to go down after today’s vote.

Sorting out the historical grievances between Turkey and Armenia is an immensely complicated task – and it is certainly understandable that many Armenians feel that Turkey should do more to atone for what was undoubtedly a major tragedy.

However, it is difficult to fathom how today’s developments will help Turkey and Armenia move forward. Rather, today’s vote is the triumph of diaspora politics over serious foreign policy.

Philip Giraldi at The American Conservative:

Every year the resolution lives or dies based on a key but never openly verbalized question:  what does Israel want?  This year, Israel is somewhat chagrined by Turkish refusal to see last year’s Gaza carnage as a measured response, but remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak would seem to indicate that Tel Aviv still values the relationship, unleashing AIPAC to make sure that each and every congressman votes the right way. Having received its instructions, the US Congress will likely genuflect and do as it is told, allowing the resolution to languish in committee just as it did last year.  All the resolution really does is make both Armenians and Turks angry and it probably doesn’t do much good for Israel either.

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